Knocked cold: Florida photojournalist learns sports photography can be a contact sport

by Gannon Burgett

posted Monday, September 21, 2015 at 1:23 PM EDT

Sports photography isn’t usually considered a contact sport. But, freak accidents do occur, and when you’re a photographer on the sidelines looking through a telephoto lens as a fully-padded 180 lb linebacker is barreling down on you, things can sometimes take a turn for the worst.

Monica Herndon, Staff Photographer for the Tampa Bay Times, learned this the hard way while covering high school football in the greater Tampa Bay area.

In the third quarter of a September 4th match-up between the Hillsborough Bulldogs and the Plant Panthers, Herndon was looking through the viewfinder and snapping photos as Plant linebacker Tykese Keaton-Baldwin was flying downfield, ball in hand (likely after an interception/fumble, as its the only reason a linebacker would have possession of the football).

In her own telling of the story, Herndon said she was thinking the whole time, ‘this is great, way better than the other pictures I have of this kid.’

Little did she know those would be the last pictures she captured at all that night.

Three of the last photos Herndon captured before being knocked unconscious as a result of getting hit while shooting high school football.

‘Next thing I remember I’m in the back of an ambulance’ she said in her telling of the story for Tampa Bay Times. EMTs began asking questions Herndon couldn’t find answers to:

‘Do you know what happened?’

‘Do you know where you are?’

‘Do you want to go to the hospital?’

As a frenzy of calls, texts and emails pour in on her phone, Herndon is still trying to remember what exactly happened. Before long, she’s being checked in at the hospital and told to wait as technicians prepare a CT scan, all without a clue as to what’s going on.

Friends began showing up and little by little Herndon started piecing the night back together as she told jokes and shed some tears to sort through the confusion. The CT scan finally came back — all clear. ‘It’s just a concussion. I can go home and rest’, she said in her retelling of the story.

Before she ever left the hospital bed though, she had two extremely important questions to ask her boss:

’Are my cameras okay? Were any of the pictures in focus?’

It’s been over two weeks since the incident. Herndon says she still can’t remember how she got hit. ‘I’ve looked at my last three frames dozens of times, trying to piece together a chain of events, but I’m not sure I’ll ever know.’

Friends, family, colleagues and even the fans and student of the schools playing all sent well wishes Herndon’s way, both during and after the incident. We, too, are glad to see her back on her feet again and picking up right where she left off.

To read Herndon’s full story, head on over to the Tampa Bay Times article. It’s not behind a paywall of any sort, a rare occurrence for local publications nowadays.

Image credits: Photos kindly provided by Monica Herndon and Tampa Bay Times.